Meet Katharine Hayhoe, Christian Climate Scientist

Jim StumpJim Stump 
on October 4, 2019

woman standing against a wall with arms crossed

Soon after moving to one of the most politically conservative cities in the country (Lubbock, Texas), Katharine Hayhoe guest taught in a colleague’s class. She walked through the science of the carbon cycle and then asked if anyone had any questions. One young man stood up and asked, “You’re a Democrat aren’t you?!” To which Hayhoe replied, “No, I’m Canadian.”

Katharine Hayhoe is one of the most publicly visible climate scientists, but her public activism is not political. She is not lobbying for the Green New Deal or trying to get you to vote for Democrats. She is simply trying to get us talking more about the climate crisis.

What should we talk about?

She doesn’t think we need to start by talking more about the science. We’ve been talking about that since the 1850s when scientists showed that burning coal puts a heat-trapping blanket around the Earth. Every president since Lyndon Johnson has been warned by scientists that this is happening, we’re causing it, and it’s going to be bad if we don’t do something about it. But for deep psychological reasons (and some superficial economic ones), that message has not gotten through.

 

 

Among her many honors, Katharine Hayhoe has been named:

One of Time’s 100 most influential people

One of FORTUNE’s 50 greatest leaders

A United Nations Champion of the Earth

Instead, Hayhoe says, we need to start by talking about our values, about what matters to us. For her, that means talking about faith. Hayhoe is a deeply committed Christian, claiming to belong to the very exclusive club (only 4 members) of climate scientists in North America who are married to pastors. Even in non-religious settings (like her TED Talk) she cites her faith as one of the reasons she’s so passionate about the climate crisis: God created this incredible planet and gave us responsibility over every living thing on it, and we are to care for and love the least fortunate among us. These are values all of us Christians share. They ought to bind us together on this important topic, even if we disagree about other things.

Some science

Once the topic of climate change has been connected to values people share, they will be more open to hearing the science and considering it with a more open mind. A fantastic resource for this is Hayhoe’s series of short videos where she explains many facets of climate change. Here are a few to start with:

Also check out Skeptical Science—a website that has lots of articles (many with basic, intermediate, and advanced versions) responding to common climate myths.

What can we do?

The science can be scary, and much of the news coverage about the climate tends toward the sensational. Unfortunately, fear and doomsday messaging is ineffective in changing people’s minds. What really helps is understanding the problem and being presented with hopeful and realistic solutions. Hayhoe says in her TED Talk that we need a vision of a better future, where everyone has the resources they need, and our lives are better than they are today.

There are practical, viable, and attractive solutions. In her video I’m just one person, what can I do?, Hayhoe gives lots of good first steps any of us can take. For example, change an old incandescent lightbulb for a new LED bulb. If everyone in America would just change one, that would be an equivalent impact to removing almost 800,000 cars from the road! Of course larger, more systemic changes are needed too, but don’t let that stop us from doing what we can right now.

More Hayhoe

We’re proud to call Katharine Hayhoe a friend of BioLogos. She has written for us before, and helped us a lot in preparing the suite of resources on the topic of creation care we’re giving this month. Spend some time getting to know her further in some of these resources:

programmable thermostat set to 63 degrees

At BioLogos, we hope to contribute positively to the church and to our culture, so that we might all understand correctly what science has to say and what God expects of us. And we want all of us to be hopeful that we can really make a difference in this generation. That kind of hope can be cultivated. It comes from hearing hopeful things. What stories are you hearing about the care of creation that give you hope? Share them with us at the comment thread on this article on the Forum.


So What Is BioLogos?

Well it all began with a scientist and a book. Francis Collins, the physician and geneticist who led the Human Genome Project, wrote the book, The Language of God. In it he describes his own journey from atheism to Christian faith, and the harmony between Christianity and science.

Today, BioLogos continues to carry out the vision of Collins, showing that you don’t have to choose between modern science and biblical faith.

I want to learn more

Jim Stump
About the Author

Jim Stump

Jim Stump is Vice President at BioLogos. He oversees the editorial team, participates in strategic planning, and hosts the podcast, Language of God. Jim also writes and speaks on behalf of BioLogos. He has a PhD in philosophy and was formerly a professor and academic administrator. His books include, Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design; Science and Christianity: An Introduction to the Issues; How I Changed My Mind about Evolution; and The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity. You can email Jim Stump at james.stump@biologos.org.  
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